“What’s for dinner?” is the question on the whole family’s mind shortly after lunch is finished. It can be difficult to figure out what to make for dinner for a busy mama, especially one who values the importance of a home cooked meal. What if a wholesome dinner was already prepared, and all you needed to do was warm it up? Is making dinner in large batches for later final preparation worth it?
- Better for you – if a wholesome dinner is already prepared, you are much more likely to eat a wholesome dinner tonight
- Saves money – ingredients can be bought in bulk, and special splurges justified when spread over multiple meals
- Saves time – a little extra prep up front saves you loads of preparation time in the late afternoon
- Easy Meal Planning – if half of the weeks meals are already prepared, meal planning is a cinch!
- Cooking in bulk takes some up front planning and a little extra prep work
It’s hard to be a working mama! After getting up early and working in the office all day, you make it through the evening commute only to get home and start your real job! Kids need attention (husband too!), and everyone immediately wants to know what’s for dinner. One of the best tricks I’ve found to maintaining sanity through the early evening hours is to cook large batches of a meal, so some can be eaten today, and some can be set aside for another night’s meal. The concept is pretty simple: whatever you are making for dinner, make a large batch. Make two or three times what your family will eat. It doesn’t take much extra time up front and will save significant preparation time later.
Take lasagna for example: it takes a long time to simmer the sauce, boil noodles, shred cheese, and build the layers. But it doesn’t take any extra time to simmer extra sauce, extra noodles, and only a little time to shred extra cheese, or build a few extra layers in another pan. Because I make my own sauce from scratch, it can easily take three hours to put together a full lasagna. It may take an additional 10 minutes to build a second pan. Each pan of lasagna I make is enough to feed my family two meals. So, by making four meals of lasagna at the same time, I’m saving myself 8 1/2 hours of time in the kitchen! And I’m still feeding my family delicious, wholesome, home made food!
Another bonus here is the monetary savings. When planning for making a big meal, you can buy in greater quantities, or get the value sizes of the ingredients. It totally makes sense for me to buy the two pound brick of cheddar at Costco if I know I’ll be making two giant pans of baked mac and cheese with it. If I was only making enough for one dinner, I would probably have bought the small pack of shredded instead, for about 4x the price (oz for oz). There is some serious money to be saved, and I’m sure you couponers could do even better than me!
Are you thinking about how much you hate leftovers? Never fear! The food that remains isn’t left over – it’s more of a planned save! If you think about what’s left in the pot or pan as a pre-planned meal for your family, it becomes a saving grace, rather than a molding burden in your fridge. The trick is that you have to plan to use it in a later date. Whether you include it your weekly meal planning, or pack it up to store in your freezer, the time you spent making dinner tonight becomes an investment for your family.
Overall, large batch cooking has worked very well for me, and I highly recommend it. I find that casseroles, and main dishes tend to be the best investment in time. Other good ideas are to pre-prep meats that need to bake in the oven for a while (while you play with the kids, or weed the garden perhaps?). Some of my favorite meals to make in large batches are lasagna, macaroni and cheese, chicken and rice casserole, jambalaya, quesadillas, pizza casserole, chili, other soups and stews, prosciutto wrapped chicken packets, and the list goes on. I enjoy the extra time I have to spend with my family, and doing things I enjoy while dinner gently warms in the oven. It’s well worth the up front investment to me!
Have you ever tried large batch cooking? What is your favorite to make in bulk?